Halloween Safety Tips for Pets

The door knocks. You walk slowly to the door because on the other side, you hear a strange whining sound. Slowly, you open – and what a sight – horror of all horrors, it’s a devil dog. Or should I say, a dog dressed as a devil. Or perhaps it’s a dog with a Lady Gaga-like wig.

Increasingly, dogs are joining with the two-legged kids trick or treating. And often those dogs are dressed up. But is that really a good idea? Who’s asking the dogs?

Here’s the first test. Put a costume on your pup. If your dog stands stiff, tail tucked, ears back, essentially acting humiliated – your dog might just be exactly that. Worse, may be if the family stands around pointing and laughing. No one likes to be laughed at.

However, what if the dog wiggles with delight dressed up as a postal carrier? It’s true, many dogs absolutely relish the attention, and family members can enhance the experience by offering little treats as the costume goes on, and telling your dog how cute she looks. Some dogs truly have a blast trick or treating.

However, some normally social dogs are frightened by little people dressed as ghouls and goblins. These dogs aren’t the best candidates for trick or treating. Be honest about your dog’s real temperament. It’s unfair to other trick or treaters, and to your dog if you force your dog into joining in on trick or treating.

If ever there’s an appropriate time to remind to microchip pets (for permanent identification), Halloween is a good one. Many dogs and cats bolt through the constantly opening door, and are lost. Shelters who find pets scan them for a microchip (that’s why not forgetting to register with the microchip provider is key – since you want your contact to appear when the pet is scanned). For both dogs and cats, having a flat buckle collar and an ID is also a good idea, so if a neighbor down the street finds the pet – the pet might be returned directly to you without a shelter visit.

So much may vary on the temperament of the pet – some pets actually revel in the commotion and constant doorbell ringing with little spooks on the other side of the door. Others pets bark non stop or become frightened. For pets who are afraid, it’s best to put them off in a room downstairs, upstairs or at the other end of the house or apartment, and close the door. Perhaps, turn on talk radio for some “white noise” or classical music – which may be calming. Plug in diffuser pheromone products (such as Dog Appeasing Pheromone or Feliway) just to take the edge off. Or simply disconnect your doorbell.

For dogs, appropriate chew toys (perhaps stuffed with treats) may be a great distraction.

Some cats and dogs are actually happier or at least more secure inside a carrier, though that’s not typically the case. For cats, another idea is to re-locate them into a far away room – and litter that room with a few empty boxes which they may jump into at their own will if they’re feeling insecure, or jumping inside the box may be an interesting game. For some cats, catnip may provide momentary relief from the Halloween stress.

While it’s always safer to keep cats indoors, there are reports – substantiated or not – of cruelty to cats over Halloween, particularly black cats. Odds are this is an urban myth – but no matter, with increased foot traffic and noise in the neighborhood, and sometimes increased auto traffic – there’s no doubt cats are safer and perhaps more content inside.

Here are some tips on keeping your pets safe on Halloween:

  • Aromas from lit candles can cause respiratory distress and even death in pet birds.
  • Cats jumping on tables might knock over a lit candle and cause a house fire.
  • Goodie Bags: While a stash of candy may not be the best thing for kids, some of what’s in those Halloween bags may be very hazardous to pets. Even ingesting only a little bit of an artificial sweetener called Xylitol (mostly used in sugarless gum) is dangerous.
  • That seemingly innocuous box of raisins may be a healthy treat for children, but raisins can make some dogs very sick.
  • Dogs who enjoy candy don’t usually stop munching after a few pieces, and too much candy (not to mention often eating the wrappers and all) can cause an upset tummy. If there’s chocolate involved, the outcome may be worse since chocolate is toxic (particularly dark chocolate). Keep the candy in a secure place, away from Fido – even if that means opening a safety deposit box at a nearby bank.

Overcoming “Fears of Fostering”

This year, I will once again get to experience Halloween through the eyes of a child. Now that we have four foster children, we will be busy picking out costumes, attempting to secretly substitute candy for toothbrushes and floss, and equipping our kids with whistles and the know-how to yell “Stranger Danger!” when they feel threatened. While kids this time of year may fear imaginary ghosts and monsters, foster parents face the real fear of the unknown and uncertain future of the children for whom they provide care. This can discourage couples or singles from becoming foster parents. If looking to adopt, they may not want to foster because they feel there is too great a risk that they may lose the child with whom they’ve fallen in love. Or, they may have heard how “crazy, unstable, and unpredictable” foster children can be.

As I travel the country and educate people about the need to find stability and lifelong connections for the most vulnerable children in society — foster children — I hear a similar list of preconceived notions and reservations. Here are the top fostering fears, myths, and fallacies that I’ve heard:

  • These kids are so aggressive and angry, and they might hurt my biological children or pets.
  • They have rages and might burn my house down or threaten me with a knife.
  • There are no “normal” foster kids — they all have developmental delays, learning disabilities, handicaps, or special needs.
  • What if I adopt and raise this child and then she or he goes back to a biological parent who reappears out of nowhere?
  • I’m single, divorced, or gay, so I can’t be a foster or adoptive parent.
  • What if I get falsely accused of child abuse? I’ll run the risk of losing my own biological children or ruining my marriage and reputation!

Like us parents, foster kids have their own set of fears:

  • If I love this new family, I’ll be giving up on or betraying my biological family.
  • I don’t want to lose my identity or culture.
  • I don’t deserve to be happy or be loved.
  • I may not get to see my brothers or sisters anymore.
  • This new family is all too good to be true, no one really lives happily ever after.
  • They can still just send me back; adults break promises all the time.

The reality is that the kinds of children who are in need of permanent homes are about as diverse as a bag of Halloween candy. We currently have four beautiful little boys in our home, each under the age of five. They all were a bit wary, timid, and upset when they came to us, but we have provided them with a loving and stable environment, meeting their needs. They are now the most vibrant and loving little ones any family could hope for.

In a surprising twist, at least two will be available for adoption. While their case plans stated reunification with their parents as the primary goal, it doesn’t appear that will occur for them. They are not alone, in a child welfare system that privileges strangers with resources, while it struggles to provide the birth families with the supports and help to overcome the issues that brought the children into the foster care system. What will happen to these children? At American Humane Association, we encourage the child welfare agency that has custody to hold a family group conference to bring together these children’s extended family system, friends, community supporters, foster parents, and other system professionals to craft a plan for their children. The possibilities are endless for the plans, and would build on the culture, capacity, and strengths of those assembled. This type of decision making humanizes the child welfare system. Each child comes into care for a different reason, and each case must be taken on an individual basis. There is no cookie-cutter answer for what’s best for each child or family. But a universal truth is that safety, stability, and permanency or lifelong connections are necessary to support children’s growth and development.

The best thing we can do for these children and the system is to be personal ambassadors for the cause. I hope my little family can serve as an example of how inspiring, energizing, and rewarding foster parenting can be. Yes, there are frustrating and sad times, but I use those moments as learning tools so that I can become a better advocate and parent. I have the most amazing little ones living in my home, and I wish I could share them with everyone (but that would obviously be a breach in confidentiality!). As a parent, you always advocate for your own children, and these kids need the same voice and loving arms.

Please consider looking into becoming a foster or adoptive parent. There are many children and youth who need caring adults to play both temporary and long-term roles in raising them into adulthood.

Armed with good intentions and a little information, we can make foster care a little less scary — for adults and kids alike. Let’s keep fears and chills back where they belong…at Halloween time.

Summer Safety for Pets

You can have hot fun in the summertime with your pets, but if the heat is on, your pets may potentially be in danger.

In general, dogs aren’t able to deal with heat as well as people are. So, if you are uncomfortable, it’s a good bet your dog is too. Many dogs wear fur coats year-round, and panting isn’t as efficient as perspiring as a cooling mechanism (though dogs do perspire some from their paw pads). Generally, the larger the dog, the more challenging to keep cool. Darker colored dogs heat up faster than lighter colored pups.

Here are a few tips for keeping your pets safe in summer:

Dogs Die in Hot Cars

Instances of dogs becoming ill and sometimes dying as a result of literally roasting in hot cars are avoidable. According to the AAA Chicago Motor Club, if it’s 85 degrees outdoors, even when the windows are open a crack, the dashboard can heat up to 170 degrees in less than 15 minutes.

Sadly, such tragedies still happen. On July 4, Maya Webb of Bettendorf, Iowa, went shopping inside a Joliet, Ill., furniture store. Unfortunately, she left her two pit bulls in the car. It was only 81 degrees outside, and she was barely gone for two hours — still, both dogs suffered heat stroke and died. Webb was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class 4 felony.

In many states and municipalities, leaving a pet in a hot car is against the law. So, calling the police may be an option. In some places, this law (like many animal cruelty laws) is more enforced than in others. Certainly, if the car is parked at a store — if more than a few minutes passes — fetching the owner can save a dog’s life.

Exercise

Some dogs play fetch forever, just to please you or, well, they’re dogs and don’t always know when to stop. It’s your job to say enough is enough. Simply put, if your dog appears too hot, he probably is. Also, be sure to offer lots of cool water throughout your game.

For dogs who are out in the yard for any extended period of time — which is not the best idea in the first place — shade and water are absolutely necessary.
If you run with your dog — even a short distance — your best bet is either an early morning jog or hitting the track after sunset, when the temperatures aren’t as high and the sun isn’t shining. Be sure to bring water for your dog (and for you).

If it’s hotter than about 90 degrees, dogs with pushed-in noses, such as French bulldogs and pugs, probably shouldn’t go out (except to do their business and for the briefest of walks). The pushed-in nose (brachycephalic) dogs have a more challenging time breathing when it’s hot outside.

Cats in Trees

Where’s Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry when you need him? In most places, if you phone the local sheriff or fire department to fetch a cat that is up a tree, you’ll only hear a bemused operator ask, “You’ve gotta be kidding?” If you manage to convince emergency personnel to respond, you’ll likely be charged a fee.
Be patient. Veterinary clinics rarely report treating cats who have fallen from trees. Emergency rooms, however, do treat people who have fallen trying to rescue feline friends. Entice kitty with a can of tuna left at lower branches or at the base of the tree; walk away, and wait for hunger to overcome fear.

While cats are generally pretty savvy about finding a cool place to escape the heat, sometimes those places are dangerous. Your cat is far safer indoors in the first place.

Skunks

If your dog gets skunked….Step #1: Get a clothespin — that’s for your nose. Step #2: Scrub your pooch in a solution of one quart hydrogen peroxide, one-quarter cup baking soda and one teaspoon liquid dish soap. Step #3: Rinse. Step #4: Scrub the pet again — this time with a solution of half tomato juice and half water as needed. Step #5: Rinse. Step #6: Go to the movies while the odor subsides. Or go back to Step #2 and purchase an over-the-counter product available to help fight skunk stench.

Asphalt

Your dog isn’t dancing to act like Lady Gaga. Hot asphalt can literally scorch dog paws. To prevent fried paws, prevent asphalt — especially around midday.

Swimming Pools

If an adult isn’t there to supervise, the dog should wear a float jacket. For starters, not all dogs are adept at swimming; most bulldogs and Pekingese, for example, will sink like a rock. Even Labradors, Portuguese water dogs and Newfoundlands, etc., may impress in the pool, but not understand or be able to exit without assistance. Even Michael Phelps can’t swim forever. It’s not uncommon for expert swimming dogs to jump into a pool, but then drown because they’ve exhausted themselves attempting to get out.

Indoors

Even homes with air conditioning can get pretty hot and, of course, not everyone has air conditioning. Refill water frequently so it’s cold. You can create cooling-off snacks, like “clucksicles” (stickless popsicles made with low-salt chicken bullion), or simply make low-salt beef- or chicken-flavored bullion ice cubes, pop one out, and serve for a cool treat. Many cats don’t drink enough, and encouraging them to do so is important. One trick is to add just a little bit of water to moist food for cats (a good idea year-round).

Emergency Care

Heat stroke begins with excessive panting and difficulty breathing. The dog may lie down or seem generally confused. At this point, quickly offer water, and begin to cool the dog — place the dog in a tub or kid’s swimming pool filled with cool water (not ice-cold water). You may enhance cooling by placing the wet dog in front of an electric fan, but not for more than a few minutes. There’s a real danger of overdoing it, and inducing hypothermia, so be careful. Don’t be shy about contacting your veterinarian.

If symptoms don’t quickly dissipate, immediately contact your veterinarian or visit an emergency veterinary clinic. Worsening signs include: the tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red; the saliva becomes thick and the dog may vomit; the rectal temperature rises to 104° to 110°F. If any of these occur, it’s a matter of life and death.

Author, syndicated columnist, and radio host Steve Dale is one of America’s leading authorities on pets.

Rabies on the Rise: Is Your Pet Protected?

By Dena Fitzgerald, program manager, shelter support

World Rabies DayWhen you think of rabies, what comes to mind? Bats? Feral dogs in third-world countries? Fictional tales of Cujo and Old Yeller? If you’re not thinking about the risk to your own pets, then World Rabies Day on September 28 is the ideal time to start, and here’s why: Rabies cases in domestic animals are on the rise in many U.S. states.

A viral infection that affects the central nervous system, rabies is found in every state in our nation except Hawaii. The most common rabies carriers are raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, but all mammals are susceptible to infection, including both you and your pets. Rabies is transmitted by the contact of an open wound (most commonly a bite wound) with the saliva of an infected animal.

There is no cure for rabies, and it is nearly 100 percent fatal. Worldwide, more than 55,000 people die of rabies each year, according to the Alliance for Rabies Control. In the United States, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that human deaths from rabies average only two per year, thanks to the effectiveness of our domestic-animal vaccination program and the accessibility of human rabies vaccine when an exposure does occur. Confirmed rabies cases in wildlife average around 3,000 per year in the U.S., but it is the number of rabies cases occurring in domestic animals that may surprise many people.

In 2008, 294 cats, 75 dogs and 59 cows died from rabies in this country. Pennsylvania had the highest incidence of rabies in domestic animals, with 60 reported cases in 2008. Virginia was a close second with 48 reported cases. In general, rabies is most prevalent along the East Coast from Florida to Maine and in southern Arizona along the Mexican border. However, some other states have seen a sharp rise in rabies cases in recent years. In Colorado, confirmed cases in wildlife have risen more than 50 percent since 2006, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Colorado has also seen three cases of rabies in horses in the past two years, the first equine rabies cases in that state in more than 30 years.

Fortunately, rabies in domestic animals is easily preventable through appropriate vaccination — but unfortunately, some pet owners are remiss in keeping this important vaccine up to date. Failing to keep your pet current on his rabies vaccination not only puts him at risk for contracting this deadly disease, but also puts you and your family at risk of exposure.

There is also another potentially serious consequence for your pet — one that is much more likely to occur than actually contracting rabies. I am talking about mandatory rabies quarantines in accordance with individual state rabies laws. Most states take the threat of rabies very seriously and have statutes mandating rabies vaccinations for both dogs and cats. Most states also mandate a rabies quarantine period when a pet bites either a person or another animal, when a pet is bitten by another known animal, or when a pet receives a suspected bite wound from an unknown animal.

If your pet has been vaccinated, some of these scenarios do not even require a quarantine period, and those that do usually require only a brief, 10-day quarantine. In the case of an unvaccinated pet, the required quarantine is often six months in an animal control facility at the owner’s expense. If the owner cannot comply with or afford to pay for this six-month quarantine, the only alternative is mandatory euthanasia.

Sadly, I have seen dozens of animals euthanized under these circumstances. I spent most of my career working in Pennsylvania and Maryland, both of which have very strict rabies statutes. It is truly heartbreaking to see a beloved family pet put to death for lack of a simple and inexpensive vaccination. It is nearly as heartbreaking to see a pet spend six months in a quarantine cage. While these rabies laws may sound extreme, remember they are in place to protect you and your family from this deadly disease.

Get tips on protecting you and your pets from rabies.